In My Opinion:
The Alphabet Soup of Sexual Identity
By Trevor K. McNeil
Times have changed as they tend to do. With that change comes discomfort and usually backlash. Look no further than the political corners of YouTube and Reddit for examples of this. LGBTTQQIAAP has become a subject of mockery. Especially on the right. The the ever-expanding series of letters used to quickly identify humans who have non-standard sexual identity has lost its practicality. There are now up to as many as eleven letters in its longest form. It is becoming obvious that they have a point. Things have gone slightly off the rails in terms understandable and honorable attempts at representation. Though it is also fair to ask where this all started and how things got to this point.
A Good Idea At The Time
For many years the existence of non-heterosexual sexual identity was generally not acknowledged by mainstream society. This changed in the late 1960’s with events such as the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and the first performance of the openly gay play “The Boys in the Band” on Broadway a year earlier in 1968. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. The term “Gay Community” came into use as a non-derogatory way to refer in general to men and women who were not heterosexual.
In the mid-1980’s activists decided “gay community” no longer reflected the complexity of what was really happening and the term LGB was first coined to refer to those with a homosexual or bisexual sexual identity.
Later on in the early 1990’s, things changed again with the addition of a T to represent those whose sexual identity was transsexual. While not officially recognized until recently, transsexuals, particularly in terms of those who only wear the clothing associated with the opposite gender and do not or cannot opt for surgery, has been identified for nearly 200 years.
Lesson From History
A trailblazer in terms of sexual identity the British author of the Romantic period George Sand (born Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dudevan), who often reinforced her male persona by wearing men’s suits and smoking cigars. She also had affairs with other women. Which as well as being illegal could sadly have also easily gotten her killed. Some things never change.
The community was favorable to the addition of the transsexual identity. The phrase LGBT becoming the accepted term and the official shorthand for anyone with a sexual identity that was not hetero or cis(1.) The new term would enter the mainstream with support and promotion by organization such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the LGBT Movement Advancement Project.
The first written use of the word “queer” was in 16th century England. The term was popularized in the expression “there’s nowt so queer as folk”. In this first use, queer referred to something that was uncanny or unusual. Usually showing signs of standardization while also deviating from it in a particular way as expressed in the phrase “queer as a three-dollar bill.” The first use in terms of sexual identity came about in the late 19th century.
As such it existed in relation to sexual identity for a long time, both negatively and positively. Being both related to but separate from gay and LGBT. The term coming up more than once in the text of “Boys In the Band” and the work of the rebelliously open and slightly rowdy British playwright Joe Orton and the notorious experimental filmmaker Derek Jarman in the early 1970s.
Despite this long and separate history, someone got the idea to add Queer to the initialism of alternative sexual identity that was LGBT. The first recorded instance of LGBTQ use occurring in 1996. Despite the acronym having stood on its own and on its own merits for decades. This action marked the first of what are, arguably, unnecessary additions and complications of the, initially positive use of LGBT.
Beginning of the End
In the early 2000’s things started going off the rails with the addition of a mathematical symbol. A + (plus) sign being added after the Q to try to cover every other sexual identity and gender expression under the sun, many of them only recently discovered.
To the Point of The Ridiculous
Unfortunately, good intentions can go too far. There are so many sexual identities wanting recognition. The original LGBT, once worked but it is obvious that the addition of more and more letters has become fucking confusing. Not only has LGBTQ now become LGBTQ+ and LGBTIQA (the I being for Intersexed and the A for asexual). There are other even longer variations. The inclusiveness cranking up to 11. The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious of these being LGBTTQQIAAP. Or, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, Pansexual. I just slapped my head.
Unbelievable as it might sound, even these extensive versions do not cover all the known sexual identities, among those being left out are those with nonphysical attraction. Not in terms of not being desiring of physical, sexual stimulation but those with a sexual attraction sparked by non-physical factors such as intelligence and charm, usually in conjunction. One prime example of this state are saphiosexuals. People whose sexual attraction is defined by factors such as intellect. There can be a physical aspect to their relationships but this is not what excites them initially. There also tends to be little concern in terms of the physical form of their sexual partners, capable of being attracted to nearly any adult with the right combination of non-physical traits.
What To Do?
Extreme as it may sound, it might be time to go back the drawing board. Eschew the confusing strings of letters and symbols most people have lost the plot on anyway and come up with a new term. A single word which while imperfect, nearly everything is in this life, expresses as well and as thoroughly as is possible, the complexity of non-binary, non-hetero sexual identity. If I may make a suggestion, as a member of the “not strictly hetero club” myself, I honestly think we should go back to “queer”. My reasoning is simple. It has the longest history. It has the simplest phraseology. It is already in wide use. Think queer theory (2) and gender-queer (3). It also has the clearest, and most inclusive connotations.
- cis: Short for cisgender. Meaning someone who identifies with the sex they were identified with at birth.
- queer theory: An approach to literary and cultural study that rejects traditional categories of gender and sexuality.
- gender queer: A “catch-all” category for non-binary gender identities. Identities that are neither exclusively masculine or feminine.